President Barack Obama announced Thursday an $8 billion plan for funding a high-speed rail across the nation, including a track that would connect Madison, Chicago and Milwaukee.
The high-speed rail system, already in use in Europe, would be used in America to link large and small metropolitan areas, airports, bus stations and highways.
The Midwestern network of the high-speed rail would include 3,000 miles of existing tracks connecting cities with trains capable of at least 110 miles per hour. Chicago, which is bidding to host the 2016 Olympic Games, would serve as the hub of the Midwestern trains.
Application procedures for rail projects grants will be finalized this spring by the Department of Transportation, with grants awarded in late summer.
Obama sees his plan as jumpstarting a potential world-class passenger rail system, according to a statement from the DOT. In addition to the $8 billion provided in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the president will include $1 billion per year for five years as a down payment.
According to spokesperson Lee Sensenbrenner, Gov. Jim Doyle has been pushing for this funding for a while and is very supportive of the federal government’s recent action.
“This is something that would be a tremendous benefit to the state,” Sensenbrenner said. “High-speed rail offers strength and lasting value to our economy.”
Assembly Majority Leader Tom Nelson, D-Kaukauna, agreed funding for high-speed trains is a good thing, saying that the plan will most definitely improve Wisconsin’s economy.
“Our economy depends on our ability to transport goods and people safely and efficiently, and we need to bring our transportation infrastructure into the 21st century,” Nelson said.
He added that utilizing high-speed rail in Wisconsin will “prove that our state is well-positioned to compete for our fair share of federal stimulus funds.”
Republican Party of Wisconsin spokesperson Kirsten Kukowski, on the other hand, argued high-speed rail is a very unnecessary expense that will do little to benefit Wisconsin citizens.
“With new unemployment numbers reaching 9.4 percent, it’s clear: first and foremost, Wisconsinites need jobs,” Kukowski said.
She added she feels the president’s new plan is an expensive investment that leaves too many questions unanswered.
“Both the Obama and Doyle administration have been vague about how many and what kinds of jobs high-speed rail will create. How will it create jobs? Will people use it?” Kukowski said.
According to Kukowski, Republicans are looking for short- and long-term incentives for businesses to hire employees, not a huge expense that does not even guarantee job creation. She added with the state already almost $6 billion in debt, it is hard to imagine adding another expense to the future of our tax burden.
Nelson, on the other hand, argues high-speed rail will create “lots of jobs.”
Ultimately, Kukowski said she believes it depends on Doyle whether the high-speed rail venture will turn out successful.
“He actively lobbied for this money and it is his responsibility to make sure it is used as wisely as possible,” Kukowski said.